12 Ways Clients Can Support Service Professionals Through COVID-19 Shutdowns

Zee Krstic, Hannah Jeon
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Good Housekeeping

There's a good chance that you haven't gotten a haircut, asked for a massage or a facial, thrown a dinner party, or asked your housekeeper to come spring clean your closets — and that's okay. Social distancing measures designed to prevent a tumultuous spread of the novel coronavirus are painfully necessary as the United States is currently experiencing the largest outbreak of COVID-19 out of all nations across the globe. And livelihoods have been impacted, making it tough to financially support service providers as we once did.

But that doesn't mean that you should cut ties with the people who help you check off those boxes on your to-do list, even if you can't pay them right now. These service professionals are experiencing a devastating upheaval to their businesses; most can't hop online to continue to charge clients for services rendered — they depend on a face-to-face experience they just can't provide right now.

While most of these professionals have already worked their way through eight weeks of social distancing orders across the nation, the biggest challenges lay ahead. Emergency savings have likely been used up to combat the loss of revenue they've already experienced. While many state leaders have enacted relief programs for more professions than ever before, some independent business owners, especially those who are sole proprietors (they work totally alone!) may not qualify for these programs. But financial challenges may be only one type of adversity they need help to overcome: Many are struggling to reimagine their services during this time, especially as it relates to technology, and pivoting to digital marketing altogether.

Since these unique professionals all have different needs, editors at Good Housekeeping thought it best to ask them directly about the kind of support they're looking for during this unprecedented time. We crafted a survey and heard from more than 60 service professionals in locations across the United States. These are some things that clients have already done to help, including the kinds of non-monetary help that independent service professionals are looking for right now:

What you can do to help service providers

Pay for products you'd normally only use in stores.

Many bars and restaurants have pivoted to delivery and take-out, as dine-in service isn't possible, and it's important to support these businesses safely from home. But restaurants aren't the only ones you can support right now with online orders. Many non-essential businesses — from spas and salons to wellness centers — that normally provide services are still offering products used by these professionals in online stores. Karen Brost, the owner of an independent spa center in Wisconsin, says that her clients can help her generate revenue by purchasing the skincare products that she uses in her professional treatments on clients to be used at home.

The same can be said for many beauty professionals; Jacqui Farber, a hair stylist also in Wisconsin, says she's working to provide her clients with root cover-up treatments in order to help her pay rent and utility costs at the salon while she is unable to work. Plus, many of these professionals could help get these products to your home if you simply ask. "Our salon is offering free home deliveries, so please take us up on that," adds Napa Valley-local Shaina Cook.

And of course, if you do decide to order products or use an online service from a business, consider offering an extra generous tip if you can — it can go a long way to help out service workers whose incomes may be lower due to fewer patrons and in-store closures. Cook shares that one client even gave a $350 tip, which she says was a much-appreciated gesture to help out her salon during this time.

Continue to purchase gift cards and vouchers.

You've heard it for weeks, but the promise of future business can tide service owners over right now. Gifting services or committing to a service in the future may help independent businesses owners map out their business in the future. And for those who are unable to even sell products adjacent to their work, gift cards or pre-paid appointments may be the only way that clients can lend immediate support to their businesses.

Karen Nason, owner and operator of Grand Central Wine Bar, a small bar and lounge with five employees nestled in Gorham, Maine, says gift cards helped her address some of the overhead costs associated with her business while she waited for federal loans to arrive. Many service providers have to continue paying rent for physical spaces like storefronts, utilities, and for supplies they ordered in advance of the pandemic. In Nason's case, her state-issued license doesn't allow her to pivot to curbside pick up, either, so any immediate cash flow is a big help for offsetting monthly operating costs.

Some businesses may also be participating in local initiatives that allow customers to buy gift certificates at a reduced rate due to matching programs in place. Alison Alleva, the owner and operator of Washington D.C.'s Georgetown Massage and Bodywork, says her licensed massage therapists are unable to pivot their services at all during the pandemic, but says she's encouraged her clients to buy discounted certificates as she understands that most have new financial concerns of their own. "We're working to ensure our clients that our therapists are going to be here after all of this, and that their gift certificates are an enormous help, as any income that we can pull in right now is crucial," Alleva explains.

Post about your service providers on social media, and take to review sites like Yelp.

This is probably one of easiest things you can do right now, even if you don't have the means to support your service providers financially. Writing reviews or sharing proof of their high-quality work on your own social platforms can help these independent business owners gain visibility on social media. The team of planners at Mavinhouse Events, a wedding planning and design firm serving clients in the New England region, tells Good Housekeeping that digital chatter around their services could expose them to clients they normally wouldn't reach. “Leaving reviews is a really impactful way clients can help us,” the team shares. “We are in the business of relationships, so validation from our partners and community is critical for long-term sustainability as an event design and production company. It's our insurance policy for a year from now."

Be patient while some service providers adjust to a new reality.

There are new rules to contend with and staff sizes are being downsized in most cases, so there's a good chance that some service providers might not operate as smoothly as they once did. It should go unsaid, but don't be quick to judge the quality of a service if the process has changed during the pandemic. "Please be nice to people that are trying to help you get things you need. It's not easy on us, either," says Laura, a New York-based food delivery customer service representative. “We know you are under stress, but there’s no need to take it out on us! We want you to be happy and fed, too."

Vera Smith, a funeral director and embalmer operating in California, shares that she's hoping her clients will demonstrate patience while they face new legislative rules, too. “We are doing the very best we can with the parameters we have been given by the authorities,” she says. Lavinia Balaj, who operates a residential assisted-living center in Glendale, Arizona, adds that she's thankful to families that focus on gratitude and appreciation rather than frustration.

There’s sure to be new changes as businesses reopen over the coming months. Denise Cournoyer, a salon owner and aesthetician, says that clients returning to their business can help by respecting any new safety and sanitation policies, which include changes such as adding 10 to 15 minutes between appointments. “There may be new rules that may be implemented upon us that may be out of our control,” says Gigi Worrad, a hairstylist from Wrightstown, New Jersey. “This will take time and will most likely be a long process. Please be patient. We will do the best we can when we are allowed back to work.”

Sign up for any digital offerings alongside friends and family.

Trainers and gym staff are pivoting to digital services, offering live stream classes that you can sign up for at home. They are not alone: Some service professionals may already be offering group experiences to generate new revenue while they close storefronts or stop booking new appointments.

Kate Homes, founder and CEO of Carried Away Chefs, a hybrid catering and culinary services firm based in New York City, shares that one of her clients proposed an online cooking demonstration series after an in-person cooking demo got canceled as a result of the pandemic. “The exhilaration I felt after wrapping up the live demo with my ‘100+ cooking pals’ was beyond words. It was fun, and thrilling and I felt like the start of something fantastic, both for me, my company, and my family,” she tells Good Housekeeping. “As if all the noise clouding my brain has quieted, I suddenly have the drive to do something I’ve always wanted — share my cooking skills and personality with the world. That, and the opportunity to continue to build relationships with my clients and their communities will outlast the COVID crisis.”

Start scheduling for the rest of the season (or year) right now.

Unless you feel like you must, try to hold off on performing services around your house that you would normally pay someone else to do — it can provide you a chance to pay your service provider in the future. Many beauticians and hairdressers, for example, shared in surveys that the most important thing that their clients could do during this time is to wait for them to color and cut their hair and return to their services as normal when they reopen. Debbie Turmel, a hairstylist based in Riverview, Florida, adds that clients can further assist her future business by pre-booking appointments, which can help her gauge her schedule for when she eventually reopens her business. And of course, if you want to go the extra mile, you can even offer to prepay for your next appointment — which California-based Shaina Cook shares that many of her clients have already done.

This courtesy can be considered for more professionals even outside of the beauty space: Think about gym memberships, deep house cleans, seasonal gardening, tutoring sessions, interior design upgrades, and other routine services you may be able to schedule now.

At Grand Central Wine Bar, Nason hopes her usual clientele will continue to plan their private events based on upcoming seasons, even if they are on a much smaller scale. Think: Late graduation parties, summer soirées, intimate weddings, or quaint functions. "Without clients coming into the bar, I'm nothing but a thought for most people right now," Nason says. "But we're still thinking about the future. We're already getting calls from event planners saying, "How can we make our next party more intimate and safer? We might not get back to the scale we're used to right away, but we'll survive on this kind of business in the nearest future."

Take a few minutes to check in, even if it's just to say hello.

No, you aren't bothering them — even if you can't provide your service provider any financial or economic support, an uplifting message and a heartfelt hello can be exactly what these professionals are looking for right now. “Just letting us know they cannot wait to get in and support us is uplifting,” says Kathy Lee Ballard, an esthetician and makeup artist in Dover, Delaware.

Other businesses share that their clients have already been sending supportive messages, including Marina Halpern, who owns Upper East Side-favorite Padoca Bakery in Manhattan. “Our community has been wonderful and their messages are really what's keeping me going,” Marina says.“I get a call or message from someone almost daily, with pictures of their kids, questions about baking, or wondering how we are doing— I have been sharing a few recipes with some of our regulars and seeing them bake our pastries at home made me smile so many times!"

Nora Logsdon, a dietician for Meals On Wheels of Northeast Ohio — a home-delivered meal program serving homebound elderly — shares that many of the program’s consumers are also reaching out to express gratitude for their continued efforts. “One consumer met a new volunteer last week who is the pastor of a local church. He said it took all of his will power not to reach out and shake his hand,” she told Good Housekeeping. “He tearfully expressed his gratitude that we are continuing to deliver meals and we are reaching out by phone to check on him. He talked about how good it is to know that someone is thinking of him and looking out for him."

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

How to help service providers in the months to come, according to analysts and insiders

Across the country, states are reopening non-essential businesses at their own pace, and the reintroduction of non-essential services is likely to be staggered in your area. That being said, even with businesses getting an OK from local government, it doesn't mean that customers will all come back at once.

Pamela Slim, the business coach behind Body of Work and a founder of local business advocacy group K’é Main Street Learning Lab in Mesa, Arizona, says that many service providers in her community are currently overwhelmed by the prospect of relaunching, especially those who may not have access to federal assistance through stimulus programs. Here's what you can do to help, according to business experts:

  1. Don't ask for a refund, even if you need to cancel prepaid services. If you have the financial means to do so, turning your payment for a training session or a deep-tissue massage into a donation can make a substantial difference for service providers, Slim explains. You may even be able to write it off as a charitable donation in your finances later on. For Diane Alonso, the sole proprietor behind Flowers by Diane in Hoboken, New Jersey, cancellations and refund requests derailed any profits in April, as other administrative fees (credit card transaction fees as well as preemptive orders costs) impacted her ability to refund deposits. "The word 'cancellation' might mean a whole lot more for us than customers," Alonso says. "Postponement is better, asking for a credit for a future service can help us immensely right now."

  2. Ask them for digital consultations. Even if the service they provide normally requires human interaction, asking for a digital consultation can allow you to pay them for coaching or instruction rendered virtually, says Slim. "I have seen hairdressers and beauticians, as a quick example, do specific pivots where they are teaching their clients over Zoom," she explains. "If there's a way that they can be providing you knowledgeable service virtually, you don't have to wait for them to offer it." If they don't have access to the tools to do so, like a phone or a laptop computer, Slim says you should consider lending them or donating them if you have the financial means to do so.

  3. Send them a "referral gift." Danielle Cohen-Shohet, the CEO and co-founder of payments solution provider GlossGenius, says her clients in the wellness space will be looking for new clients to fill their schedules when they finally can conduct business again — which is where you come in. "Send an email to close contacts in your network and ask them if they're looking for a recommendation for a specific type of service professional," Cohen-Shohet advises. "If they respond, be sure to refer them to the business on the spot."

  4. Reach out to their city council person. This local representative is often the one who might be coordinating efforts on behalf of business owners or service providers who are in need in their communities. "It could be something as simple as grocery delivery, or unique grants that are happening within certain specific city areas that can be very specific to what's happening locally," Slim explains. "They can connect you with nonprofits that might have particular programs that your service provider may be unaware of."

  5. Offer your administrative skills as support, sharing as many resources as possible. Deeplaxmi Adke, founder of Her Handshake, a D.C.-based community of women business owners and service providers, says many of the women within her organization are asking for aid in tackling a massive amount of paperwork associated with financial assistance. And some might not be aware of the programs available to them in the first place. "I've been pushing information on loans and grants to my members, encouraging them to apply," Adke adds. "As women, we tend to be hesitant to ask for help or money, and sometimes think there are others who need it more. Educate and encourage businesses you know, respectfully." Even simply offering to do research for them or writing an outline of the information they'll need to apply for assistance can be a great help.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

How to keep service professionals safe while they work for you

Social distancing measures are some of the most paramount safety measures for preventing the spread of COVID-19. But states are in the process of lifting stay-at-home orders in the hopes of jumpstarting the economy, some earlier than others — and independent service professionals and business owners have to get back to work at some point. Whether it's two months from now or at the end of the year, there are a few things you can do to minimize the risk for any service professional you work with. Jonathan Fielding, MD, the former public health director of Los Angeles County and a distinguished professor of health policy and management at the University of California Los Angeles' Schools of Public Health and Medicine, says these measures will greatly reduce the risk of you impacting service professionals in your community.

  1. Always wear a properly fitted mask or face covering. You can learn about the best ways to keep your face covered with our illustrated guide, which demonstrates how wearing a face mask might prevent you from unknowingly spewing contagious droplets into your vicinity. "This will help keep everyone around you safe," he says.

  2. Wash and disinfect your hands constantly, and wear gloves if it helps you to remember not to touch other surfaces if possible. Gloves aren't always the best way to keep your hands free of COVID-19 germs, but Dr. Fielding says they might help to remind you to keep your hands to yourself if possible, and to refrain from touching your face.

  3. Properly dispose of your personal protective equipment (PPE). "If you just throw your gloves and mask on the ground or in the bottom of your basket/cart, a service provider will have to clean that up," Dr. Fielding says. "Wash your hands immediately after taking off your PPE — rather than taking it off in the parking lot, it's best if you can wait and take it off at home."

  4. Shop or enter a business alone. If you must leave your home to enter a business, don't make it a family affair. Doing so might reduce the impact of your own health status on others, or vice versa.

  5. Stay 6 feet away from people whenever possible. You may laugh at viral videos of hairdressers using poles or other tools to avoid crouching over their clients now, but there's something valuable about the idea. "Six feet is approximately the length of two standard grocery carts. This might mean you have to wait for someone to clear an aisle," Dr. Fielding explains. "That's ok, just expect it to take a little extra time and wait. Don't lean over someone for that last item you need."

  6. Don't get upset if someone wants to take your temperature or asks how you're feeling. Service providers may be doing so at the direction of their local government. "For some services, you may be asked to wait in your car until your appointment. Check in with your service providers if you are unsure regarding their policies as they start opening up," Dr. Fielding clarifies. "Expect not to be able to bring your children/anyone else to any service appointment, and expect that people may want to take your temperature before providing services.

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